I grew up in a “normal” middle-class household, back when middle-class had a slightly different meaning. (Hint: I was about 10 when the Beatles first came to the US.) My childhood was what you would call comfortable: I had everything I needed and was happy.
I was first taught to do chores around the house at the tender age of 5 and got an allowance. My parents taught me the value of hard work and money, but the latter was viewed as a means to stay comfortable and safe and not the end-all goal.
As a child, I never understood why we threw away the crumbs. You know, the crumbs at the bottom of the cookie bag, the cereal box, the cracker sleeves. After all, they were still cookies, cereal, and crackers, just in a different form.
After all, I am still me whether I wear a dress or jeans. I am still me whether I drive a new Mercedes convertible or a 20+ year-old Acura (my current car). I am still me whether I live in a 4-bedroom house filled with expensive furniture (I’ve been there) or in a small cottage furnished with hand-me-downs and within walking distance of the ocean (current).
There’s less to clean, less to organize, less to store, and more time to do what I want, more freedom from worrying about protecting and repairing expensive “stuff.” Rather than collect things I can place on shelves in a display case or arrange on the walls, I collect memories. They are easy to store, you don’t have to insure them, and they are always with you, no matter where you go—no moving van necessary!
I know people who collect things and who have dedicated entire rooms to hold onto them. Some people accumulate boxes and boxes of stuff that they never open yet move them from place to place. If these things bring them peace and happiness, that’s wonderful. In most cases, however, I believe that is not true. The stuff is a substitute for something they are missing in their lives, an attempt to fill a void.
However, none of us are missing anything; we already possess it—our own inner beauty and truth. As the Buddhist nun, author, and teacher Pema Chodron says in Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living: “We already have everything we need.” We all possess “our basic wealth,” and “all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are.”
I believe that when we eliminate excess stuff, when we choose living with less, we grow as individuals.
That’s because we don’t allow other things to define who we are. We are not our cars, clothes, apps, homes, tablets, or jewelry. All of these things could disappear tomorrow, and you would still have the most precious thing: you.
As an adolescent I read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and I felt I had found my soulmate when I read three simple words in that book: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” I was home. Someone else knew the answer. Keep It Simple Stupid (although I’m sure Thoreau didn’t have a K.I.S.S. note taped to his cabin wall).
I never knew there was a minimalist “movement,” yet one only has to do a quick search on the Internet to find scores of websites and thousands of articles on the topic. Recently I have been reading some of the content and agreeing with much of it and wondering why I never bothered to look for these like-minded folks earlier.
But I guess I was just too busy doing what I wanted to do, being where I wanted to be, and trying to get the hang of this thing called life. And in my book, taking that journey is better with as little baggage as possible.